Top positive review
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No other dessert book comes close
on 1 January 2007
I work as a pastry chef and own dessert books by authors such as Rose Levy Beranbaum, Maida Heatter, Marcel Desaulniers, etc. But none come close to this book. Maybe it is unfair to compare "baking" books to this cookbook, which could only be classified as a "dessert" book, but other "dessert" books (ie Michel Roux's Finest Desserts, Jacques Torres' Dessert Circus) still fall short of this book.
Gordon is clearly in a league of his own, his flavour combinations are original, creative, and ahead of their time, whilst still retaining a simplicity that allows any intermediate cook to approch them. I say this from experience, because I have owned this book well before I started my pastry apprenticeship.
To give you an understanding of why I admire this book so much, I will compare two fairly standard recipes from two different authors. Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Pie and Pastry Bible" contains a fairly comprehensive recipe for an apple pie. Those who are familiar with Beranbaum's books will no doubt be aware of the extensive research and time she would have spent in search of the "perfect" apple pie recipe. Her recipe is quite complex, although still straightforward, for an apple pie. The chunks of apple are basically "macerated" in sugar, lemon and spice for several hours, so that excess liquid (which may result in shrinkage during baking) is released from the fruit. This juice is then reduced to intensify flavour, then combined with the apple chunks, which are coated lightly with cornstarch. This mixture is placed in the pie shell as per any standard apple pie recipe, then topped with pastry and baked.
Rose's recipe is quite technical, almost overly technical, and while the result is very good, I believe that Gordon's approach is far more effective. Gordon's book contains a "Deep Dish Autumn Fruit Pie" which is essentially the same thing as an apple pie, except he used pears and plums as well as apples. The method Gordon employs to maximise the flavour of the fruit is faster and more intense; a knob of butter is heated in a large frying pan until stinking hot, then the chunks of fruit are tossed into the pan. A combination of sugar and chinese five-spice is sprinkled directly over the roasting fruit to encourage caramelisation and depth of flavour. Once a rich colour is achieved the fruit is sprinkled with liqueur and left to cool, then placed in a pie shell, topped and baked. Even if the recipe was made using only apples, the resulting pie would still be fantastic. Gordon's cooking is straightforward yet exciting, with maximum flavour being the top priority. While I respect the effort and love Rose Levy Beranbaum has invested into perfecting her recipes, Gordon's passion and intensity is far more inspiring to me than Rose's precise measurements and lengthy preparation times.
This is just one example - I could write pages on why I believe this book is best, but I hope this review has given some insight into my strong feelings regarding this book. In short, it isn't so much the recipes that set it apart from other dessert/baking books, but Gordon's enthusiastic, passionate approach to even the most simple of desserts, such as baked apples, right through to elaborate preparations such as "Orange Pannacotta, Honey Roasted Figs, Fresh Orange Sections, Orange Zest Confit" to the fun, colourful desserts such as "Caramelised Banana Bavarian" or "Roasted Baby Pineapples". The wait for a better dessert book will indeed by very, very long.